Remember those shows in the 60s promising a glimpse into the future?
Yes, in only 20 short years, mum could relax in the kitchen thanks to time-saving electric-powered dishwashers, leaving dad to enjoy his pipe while listening to the wireless news in stereophonic sound. Advances in technology would make things easier.
Ok, you're probably working harder than ever before, but cannily enough, the producers of these programmes tended to get most of their predictions right. Non-stick pans and worldwide mobile telephone access were unheard of then, but are mainstream today. Nevertheless, one futuristic product failed to emerge: the flat, thin, hang-on-your-wall TV. They were ubiquitous in all show homes of the future, but these sylph-like screens didn't find their way into our living rooms.
Perhaps we should just accept that some predictions don't come true.
We all got over the dream of the paperless office, after all, and unless you're really paranoid, 1984 came and went without Big Brother. No, the reason I'm thinking about large, thin screens is that they've suddenly reappeared.
There I was shoving my way through London's Paddington station only to find it boasting large, flat, thin and widescreen displays. Too stunned to check them for shallow promises of accurate train times, I hurried home to find BBC2's Home Front featuring visions of the future home complete with, yes, those panel displays. When NEC (the computer company, not the Birmingham venue for the Gladiators) held a press conference the next day about panel displays, I knew the time had come for action - or a column at least.
The technology used at Paddington and in several airport terminals, is called Plasma and is not a large version of your notebook computer screen.
Rather than a grid of liquid crystals, Plasma displays are made from tiny fluorescent tubes, one for each pixel. Simply make them illuminate quicker than the flickery tubes that spark into life in our garages, then pop red, green and blue-coloured filters over the top, and you've got a plasma monitor.
If it sounds simple, that's because it is. I was lucky enough to visit Plasma and LCD fabrication plants in Japan and the difference between them is a revelation. Modern LCD factories are run to the same complex configurations as Intel's CPU plants - often with little human intervention. Plasma, on the other hand, appear to be very easy to manufacture, as long as you're not after too high a resolution or a panel much smaller than 30 ins.
You want one, don't you? Well, until they're manufactured in volume, plasma displays will remain expensive luxuries. A 50in plasma monitor from Pioneer or NEC measuring about six inches thick will leave you little change from pounds 10,000. But I've seen how they're made and it's a darned sight easier than LCD. Be in no doubt that prices will soon drop. Finally, the future home will be complete.
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